Most startup founders would panic in the face of a cease and desist order from the FDA. Most founders aren't Anne Wojcicki of 23andME, who “saw it [the FDA cease and desist] as a sign of success."
Speaking at this year's Startup Grind Conference, Anne added, "We had done things in a different enough way that we had stirred enough controversy and that people were stepping up and taking notice”.
Ordered by the FDA in late 2013 to stop providing analyses of people’s risk factors for diseases, 23andME recently received approval from the FDA to reinstate a number of their original tests. Since then, 23andME has been making steady progress on their mission to fuel a healthcare revolution through consumer empowerment.
Watch Anne Wojcicki's full session with Steve Clemons here, and catch our highlights below.
When Success Doesn't Come Easily
But it wasn’t an easy battle for the reborn startup. Anne said that “as an entrepreneur, if I didn’t love what I did, I would have shut down." As various regulatory bodies begin to publicly announce their concerns, hopefully unicorns like Uber and Zenefits share Anne’s point of view.
Since the FDA ruling, 23andME has come out on top with an improved website and a user comprehension of 90% - that is, an understanding of the data, and its limits, that 23andME provides. This accomplishment can be partially be attributed to the mandated comprehension study imposed on 23andME by the FDA.
Democratizing Your Health Data
Living to fight another day, Anne eloquently reminded the Startup Grind audience that she didn’t start 23andME to fight with the FDA - but instead with the goal of democratizing genomic data, giving users a new level of insight into their health that was impossible even a decade ago. With 1.2 million consumers and an ever growing international presence, 23andME is leaving an impact on both consumers and researchers alike.
Partly driven by an experience from her mother’s childhood and partly driven by her desire to enable humans to better understand their health, Anne has made incredible strides in an industry that seems to be an afterthought in the recent technology revolution.
“My hope is that people get their genetic information and that genetic information leads them to be more proactive about their health or to get information that is going to lead to preventing some kind of early death," dreams Anne Wojcicki of her company.
But it's the data that really gets Anne excited: “23andME is trying to disrupt by having one giant data set that everyone can research from. We’re trying to create competition in the data analytics”.
And perhaps most exciting of all, 23andME is beginning to leverage their data to develop therapeutic, novel drugs that can cure diseases, in a more efficient, low-cost manner.
Anne has a track record of perseverance and takes a positive view when it comes to failure. Anne reminds us that even mature startups learn from failure: “we fail all the time, we are constantly reevaluating what we are doing. The only way to succeed is to build on the failures and see what works."
While many of the secrets of the human genome remain to be discovered, it’s safe to say that if anyone can help crack the code, it’s Anne and her team at 23andMe.
Anne Wojcicki co-founded 23andME in 2006 after a decade spent in healthcare investing. Under her leadership, 23andME has built one of the world's largest databases of individual genetic information and made significant advances in bringing personalized medicine directly to the public. Anne graduated from Yale University with a BS in Biology.